As part of our Silver Garden project at Brodick Castle and Gardens we commissioned Sculptor Sally Mathews to produce a representation of Arran’s legendary white stag.
“Informed by this history, we wanted to produce an artwork that was naturalistic but had an otherworldly presence.”
The Silver Garden project was based around ideas of 19th century romanticism, a movement that valued man’s emotional reaction to the natural world and put great emphasis on history and legend.
White deer are rare and beautiful creatures that occasionally appear among the red deer herds of Arran. Their ethereal, almost ghostly colouring is caused by a genetic mutation called leucism, which reduces pigment in skin and hair.
White was the colour of the afterlife in ancient Celtic legend, and the white stag was seen as a messenger from the other side. White was later deemed the colour of purity, and the animal was absorbed into Christian symbolism. It may also have merged, in the imagination, with the unicorn that proudly flanks the Scottish Coat of Arms.
Informed by this history we wanted to produce an artwork that was naturalistic but had an otherworldly presence. Sally’s work was a perfect fit. Her boar sculptures from Grizedale Forest in the Lake District use earth and foraged items from the site to form the sculpture. This creates a real connection to the site and means the sculptures age naturally with their surroundings. These naturalistic qualities come with a limited life span though, degrading after around 7-10 years.
Our solution was to use a more durable material, in this case steel. From there, Sally incorporated sculpted leaves of bracken and Arran white beam (a type of birch unique to the island) into the body of the stag.
This created a sculpture linked to its environment while setting it apart in a material that feels alien.